Bells and the Tower
Bells have been rung at St Albans Cathedral since it was first built in the late 11th century by Abbot Paul de Caen. 10 centuries later 13 new bells were commissioned and installed in the tower following their consecration on 4 September 2010.
The oldest bell still in use in the Cathedral is the Sanctus bell which was cast about 1290 and now hangs in the south transept gallery.
Previously, the twelve bells which were in use until April 2010, were used for ringing for services, weddings, and other special occasions date from 1699 to 1935. The five bells that existed in the 17th century were recast into six in 1699 by Philip Wightman of Clerkenwell, and hung in the original medieval bellframe in the northeast corner of the top of the tower.
At this time they were rung from a floor at clerestory level with the ropes passing through the painted ceiling in the tower.
The ninth bell
In 1731 the bells were augmented to a ring of eight by adding a treble and second, at the same time the third of the original six was recast.
In 1757 the fourth of the original ring cracked, and it was recast in 1758.
In 1792 the treble of the eight was recast by John Briant of Hertford.
In 1827 the treble again cracked and bellringing ceased until the restoration of the Cathedral in the 1870's by Gilbert Scott. The treble was recast in 1845 as part of the restoration of the carillon. During the restoration of the Cathedral the bells were rehung in the southwest corner of the tower at a higher level and are now rung from a floor just above the painted ceiling.
The sharp 2nd bell
In 1935 the Wightman third was again recast and four bells were added to give the present ring of twelve.
In 1765 John, the 1st Earl Spencer, gave a carillon to the Abbey which was able to play 9 tunes on the 8 bells. Over the years this machine became ever more difficult to keep going and by the late 1870's was in need of replacement. The Cathedral authorities instructed John Godman, a local clockmaker, to replace the clock, and to build a new ringing machine incorporating a carillon, and quarter chimes. This work was completed in 1880. A hundred years later this "new" machine was also out of commission for want of repair and then remained silent for some 20 years until Dean Jeffrey instigated a repair programme. Now the 125+ year old machine rings three verses of the tune of the day, every three hours from 9.00am to 9.00pm.
In 2010 a complete ring of 13 bells was cast by Whitechapel Bellfoundry and hung in the southwest corner of the tower. They were rung for the first time at Easter 2011 and are rung twice on Sundays and for special occasions. The bellringers practice on them on Tuesday evenings.
Eight bells from the previous ring have been hung in the southeast corner of the tower and are still in use as the clock chime.
The Ringing Chamber
In addition to the bells mentioned above there is a Service Bell, "Edmund", which was cast in 1884 by John Taylor and named after Sir Edmund Denison Beckett, later Lord Grimthorpe. It is hung in the North East turret of the North Transept.
The tower of the Cathedral is the earliest remaining great Norman tower in the country and is built of Roman bricks reclaimed from the site of the city of Verulamium. At the level of the ringing chamber the tower measures 47 feet (14.3m) North to South and 45 feet (13.7m) East to West. The walls are over 7 feet (2.1m) thick. The floor of the ringing chamber is 102 feet (31m) above the floor of the crossing and is reached by two flights of spiral stairs.
The first is of 62 anticlockwise steps in the northwest turret of the North Transept. This leads onto a gallery along the the north transept clerestorey and then to a further flight of 98 clockwise steps within the northwest corner of the tower. Another 55 steps give access to the roof, and the finest views of St Albans and the surrounding countryside.